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Coronavirus Today: Mask middlemen mania

Good evening. We’re Diya Chacko and Sam Schulz, and it’s Friday, May 29. Here’s the latest on what’s happening with the coronavirus, plus ways to spend your weekend and a look at some of the week’s best stories.

Los Angeles County now has the state’s official blessing to reopen restaurants for in-person dining, plus barbershops and hair salons. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the county is ready for this next phase, pointing to fewer hospitalizations and lower infection rates and better testing capacity. But opening back up is still a risk. Officials warned it could result in new outbreaks if social distancing and other safety rules are not enforced, and some health officials worry California is reopening too quickly.

L.A. County is still the epicenter of California’s outbreak, with more than half of the state’s more than 4,000 deaths. And people of color are much more likely to die from the coronavirus, county officials say. Compared to white people, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander residents are dying at a rate four to 12 times higher. In addition, the fatality rate for black people is double that of whites and for Latinos it’s 70% higher than for whites.

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As the Supreme Court weighs California’s limits on gatherings for religious services, Germany’s approach to reopening churches could offer a road map — and a cautionary tale. In Germany, widely hailed as a model for its handling of the pandemic, houses of worship were allowed to reopen, provided they adhered to social spacing and did not allow singing. But an outbreak among more than 100 worshipers at a Frankfurt church is a sobering reminder that a return to pre-pandemic practices isn’t safe.

Health officials say it’s important not to undo the progress that Californians have achieved by following stay-at-home orders. Ventura County, which was the first in the region to get the state’s permission to start lifting restrictions, is expected to update and extend its stay-at-home order to keep easing restrictions while maintaining the need for social distancing.

What about businesses that break the rules? In L.A. County, where gyms and movie theaters must remain closed and restaurants and retailers must adhere to strict protocols, ramped-up inspections this month have found a number of businesses haven’t complied — whether deliberately or inadvertently, due to catastrophic losses or quarantine fatigue. Dozens of prosecutions are underway, and more are in the pipeline. One beauty-supply store owner facing criminal charges wondered: “Are they going to take me to jail?

Even as more businesses are allowed to reopen, the pain of the pandemic and sky-high unemployment is making for a sluggish economic restart. And that underscores the dilemma facing Southern California retailers, employees and consumers: If stores are full, the pandemic could worsen. If they’re empty, the economy can’t recover.

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Then there’s the upheaval in murkier areas of the economy.

Among the motley bunch of characters who pitched California a deal for millions of medical-grade masks were an ex-convict, a powerful lobbyist and Newsom’s own brother-in-law — none of whom had any experience selling masks. The offer fell apart, leaving behind questions about whether there were really even masks to sell. The saga offers a unique window into how the pandemic transformed the mundane trade in masks into a Wild West marketplace of middlemen selling to other middlemen.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:48 p.m. PDT Friday:

More than 106,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,000 deaths.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)
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Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

What to read this weekend

For many Americans, quarantine has felt how they imagine a prison stay might. For Kevin Harrington, it was freedom. He knew what prison was, having served 18 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. After a judge exonerated him last month, he was thrilled to go into quarantine.

“You don’t know that feeling of terror.” For many in Wuhan, China, the initial fury at being lied to, locked down and abandoned has been replaced by horror at how other countries have failed to contain the virus despite early warnings of the danger it presents. Residents are also angry that the world is blaming them, when they were the first to suffer.

A Hollywood-style exhibition of our pandemic times. In the winding hills of the Hollywood Dell neighborhood of Los Angeles is the Museum of Quarantine, a collection of paintings, Post-It notes, weavings and other ephemera related to life in the era of the coronavirus.

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 Image of a Clorox bottle at the Museum of Quarantine
An image of a Clorox bottle is posted on the Museum of Quarantine on an empty street-facing wall created by Ann Morrow Johnson de Rivera. She asked her neighbors to hang their own creations on the wall to bring the community together during a time of isolation.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

What happens in places where pork is a way of life? Weeks after one of the nation’s largest coronavirus outbreaks closed a sprawling Smithfield plant in South Dakota, workers are now trickling back through its gates. They face an acute version of the problem we all confront: What’s safe, and for whom? One worker who returned asks: “Why is pork essential?

They survived a school shooting. Then the coronavirus stole their senior year. When the pandemic shut down end-of-senior-year traditions at Saugus High School, it only compounded the still-raw feelings of loss from the morning in November when a student pulled a handgun from his backpack and shot several classmates.

“Massive and intimate, communal and personal.” For the first time in nearly a century, the iconic Hollywood Bowl will be silent this summer. The Times asked entertainers from across disciplines, including Lionel Richie, Danny Elfman, Courtney Love and Misty Copeland, to reflect on their most memorable performances at the Los Angeles landmark.

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Screens show the movie "Nightmare Before Christmas" during Danny Elfman's concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Screens show the movie “Nightmare Before Christmas” during Danny Elfman’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
(Michael Baker / For The Times)

A day in the life of Seth Myers’ “Late Night.” The COVID-19 pandemic has presented all kinds of new challenges for comedian Seth Myers and the team at “Late Night,” which has been producing full at-home editions since March 30. Here’s what one day looks like, from first draft to wrap.

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What to do this weekend

Start your summer. The pandemic has put a major damper on the summer fun we’re used to, but there’s still plenty to do. We’ve come up with 70 ways to enjoy summer safely, including touring L.A.'s architectural gems and giving your patio or balcony an Instagram-worthy makeover.

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Get outdoors. Take a wildflower walk in the daytime and savor the strawberry moon at night. Those are just two of our 10 ideas for what to do. If you’re thinking of hitting the trail, here’s the latest on what’s open and what’s not. And if you want to go mountain biking, you can try these mountain resorts.

Sleep outdoors. Some campgrounds are open, including in Joshua Tree National Park and San Bernardino National Forest. Grand Canyon National Park has reopened — parts of it, anyway. (Yosemite may reopen next month.)

Get in the water. Southern California’s beaches are reopening; here’s the latest. If you’re worried about catching the coronavirus in an ocean, lake, river, swimming pool or hot tub, don’t be: Swimming, surfing and soaking are safe, experts say. As for sunbathing? Head to San Diego or Ventura County.

Read a new book. Now that L.A. bookstores have reopened for curbside service, you can replenish your reading list locally. Maybe pick up “The Compton Cowboys”; its author Walter Thompson-Hernández will join the L.A. Times Book Club next month to discuss it. For more information on future book club events, sign up for its newsletter.

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Watch something great. This week’s Ultimate Summer Movie showdown saw “Alien” eke out an unexpected win over “Star Wars.” Although this year’s Cannes Film Festival is canceled, Justin dug into the festival’s recent history and rounded up 28 of the best films you can stream right now. For more under-the-radar movie recommendations, get film writer Mark Olsen’s Indie Focus newsletter.

Get cooking. For a weekend breakfast, whip up some crisp waffles — you already have the secret ingredient in your pantry — or these gloriously easy drop biscuits. Or for a quarantine-friendly but restaurant-worthy dinner, steam yourself a pot of mussels; the best way to eat them is solo, anyway. Get more from Our Food team’s weekly newsletter.

Let somebody else do the cooking. Patricia Escárcega spoke with the family behind Centro Basco, a historic Basque restaurant in Chino, about their struggles to survive on takeout alone. With restaurants moving toward reopening, sign up for the Tasting Notes newsletter to get dining and takeout recommendations from her and fellow restaurant critic Bill Addison.

Host a virtual meetup. Organize a happy hour (you might as well play our drinking game), karaoke night, book club or nostalgia-fueled game of bingo using our printable California travel bingo cards. We’ve got technical instructions and ideas.

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Listen to a podcast. Try “Coronavirus in California” for dispatches from the front lines. If you’d rather take a mental break from the crisis, check out our new podcast “It Was Simple: The Betty Broderick Murders,” written and hosted by columnist Patt Morrison. Here are more great podcasts, too.

Resources

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (here’s a super-fun how-to video), and keep your phone clean. Practice social distancing, maintaining six feet of space. And wear a mask if you leave home. Here’s how to do it right, and here are the rules around Southern California.
— Watch for symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. If you think you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.
— If your job has been affected by the pandemic, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— We’ve got free resources for restaurant and entertainment industry workers having trouble making ends meet.
Helping kids navigate pandemic life means being honest, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine.
— In need of mental health services? Here are resources for coping during the crisis from the CDC and the L.A. County Department of Public Health. L.A. County residents can also call (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741.

A pandemic in pictures

Chaffey College student Jessica Reyes at a drive-through graduation ceremony
One way to graduate during a pandemic: with a drive-through ceremony. Chaffey College passed out hundreds of “grad bags” to people like Jessica Reyes, seen here waiting in line May 20 at the college’s Rancho Cucamonga campus. Times photographer Irfan Khan captured the celebration.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Got a question? Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. You can find more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions roundup and in our reopening tracker.

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For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times over the weekend, visit our homepage and our Health section, listen to our “Coronavirus in California” podcast, sign up for our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.


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